By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 17, 2007
MIAMI, Feb. 16 -- Officials at the Navy brig where terrorism suspect Jose Padilla was held for 3 1/2 years as an enemy combatant were ordered Friday to testify at a hearing to determine his psychological competency, a ruling that allows the defense to press its claims that sensory deprivation and torture in confinement have rendered the alleged al-Qaeda operative unfit to stand trial.
The ruling marks one of the few times since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that officials responsible for the jail conditions and interrogations of terrorism suspects have been called to testify, and it is the first time in the Padilla case.
Federal prosecutors objected strenuously to allowing the testimony, arguing that the focus of the competency hearing should be on Padilla's psychological state, which they believe is adequate, and not necessarily on what past events might have caused post-traumatic stress disorder, as defense attorneys allege.
During a hearing Friday, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke grew tired of the government's objections.
"The only thing that comes to mind is: 'Methinks the lady doth protest too much,' " she told prosecutors.
Cooke ordered four people to appear at a hearing scheduled for Thursday: Sandy Seymour, who was technical director at the brig; Craig Noble, brig psychologist; Mike Reheuser, a Defense Department attorney; and Andrew Cruz, a brig social worker.
Joanne Mariner, counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch, said the ruling is significant because while complaints of mistreatment from terrorism suspects have been frequent, it is rare that officials knowledgeable about their confinement have been called to testify.
"This could provide official confirmation of prisoner accounts of abuse," she said. "If they confirm elements of his story, it would have enormous credibility with the public."
After he was arrested in 2002, Padilla was considered so dangerous that he was held without charges at the Navy brig -- a so-called "enemy combatant" accused of plotting a radiological "dirty bomb" attack and later of conspiring with al-Qaeda to blow up apartment buildings with natural gas.
After more than three years at the brig, he was transferred to the civilian legal system, where he faces charges of conspiring to commit murder, kidnapping and other violent acts in the name of Islam. The trial is scheduled for April.
Padilla, 36, and his attorneys have claimed that while incarcerated at the brig in Charleston, S.C., he was forced to stand hooded in painful stress positions, given a drug as a "truth serum," subjected to noxious odors that made his eyes and nose run, and forced to endure sleep deprivation, extreme cold, and harsh lights.
He told a psychologist that at the brig that he sometimes begged his guards not to put him in "the cage," but he would not say what went on there. The conditions of his incarceration have rendered him unable to assist in his own defense, his attorneys said.
"When approached by his attorneys, he begs them, 'Please, please, please' not to have to discuss his case," according to psychiatrist Angela Hegarty, who interviewed him for 22 hours.
A Bureau of Prisons psychologist has found Padilla competent to stand trial, and prosecutors argue that by relating his claims of torture to his attorneys, Padilla has shown his psychological competence to assist in his own defense. But the court-appointed psychologist from the Bureau of Prisons, Rodolfo Buigas, did not interview Padilla, who refused to cooperate. Instead, Buigas talked with brig officials and others about Padilla's behavior.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.